Terry is a perfect type of the idealist.
We shall see how, in the midst of what the world calls
immorality and sordidness, this quality in him was
ever present; even when it led to harshness to persons
or facts. Not fitting into the world, his attitude
toward it, his actions in it, and his judgment of
it, are keen and impassioned, but, not fitting the
actual facts, sometimes unjust and cruel. Tender
and sensitive as a child, his indignation is so uncompromising
that it often involves injustice and wrong. But
the beauty in him is often startlingly pure, and reveals
itself in unexpected conditions and environment.
I cannot do better in an attempt to present him and
his history than to quote voluminously from his letters
to me, adding only what is necessary for the sake
of clearness. He wrote for me the following poetic
outline of his life:
“The fate of the immigrant,
sprung from peasant stock, is to grow up in the slums
and tenements of the great city. Such a fate was
mine. To exchange the rack-rented but limitless
fields of Irish landlordism for the rickety and equally
rack-rented tenements, with the checkerboard streets,
where all must keep moving, is only adding sordidness
to spare sadness. Surely, the birthday’s
injury is felt in a deep sense by the poor. But
the patient fatalism of the peasant (so fatal to himself)
is equal to every calamity.
“I came from an exceptionally
well-to-do family of tenement-farmers, but a few generations
of prolific birth rate, with the help of successive
famines and successful landlordism, reduced us to the
point of eviction. Enough was saved from the
wreck to pay for our passage in a sailing vessel to
America. After being successfully landed, or stranded,
on New York, my father, with the true instinct of
the peasant, became a squatter on the prairies of
Goose Island. Here we put up, in the year 1864,
a frame shanty of one room, in which the nine of us
tried to live. My father, the only bread-winner,
made from seven to eight dollars a week. Absolute
communism in the deepest and most harmonious faithfulness
prevailed. Truly, as Burns says:
’We had nae wish, save
to be glad,
Nor want but when we
We hated naught but
to be sad.’
“I rejoice to say that I never
got over this first blessed lesson in communism; even
though it was on a small scale, the family contained
the unity of a Greek tragedy. The heart that
throbs with little things may finally throb for the
world. And I learned nothing in these days except
the lessons of the heart. The only necessary thing
of which we had almost enough was bread. The
struggle for existence, began on one continent, has
continued on the other, with the surviving members
of the family standing shoulder to shoulder for lack
“Armed with a throbbing faith
in everything but myself, I boldly and voluntarily
entered the arena of commercial activity at the pliable
age of eight. My first job away from home was
in a mattress factory. Ah, that first job!
I was a triumphant Archimedes who had found his fulcrum.
I helped move the world, for twelve hours a day and
for two dollars a week.
“Then and later, I, like all
people who possess nothing, found that my best visions
have come to me while at work on something in which
I had wistful faith; and when I lost faith I blindly
followed the economists and philosophers who can never
know the mystic power of work over the worker.
And it may be that herein lies the secret of the philosopher’s
ignorance and the worker’s slavery. A man
stands to his job because of the visions that come
to him only when at work.
“Though I helped move the world,
I was not an Atlas, and at last, I grew tired, for
I found the world moved me out of all proportion to
my capacity. Even at an early age, I found that
I had not the heart for the fray. Stamped on
my narrow forehead, on my whole being, perhaps, so
clearly that every unsympathetic boss could understand
at once, was the mark of the visionary. My pitiable
willingness to work was truly tragic.
“We were an eccentric family,
especially in our peculiar aloofness from others.
We clung desperately to one another long after the
necessity was past. Neither eviction nor commerce
could disband us. Only marriage or death could
separate us. Though we were Catholics on the surface,
we were pagans at bottom. I had fed my fill on
the fairy tales of Ireland. Fortunately, these
fairy tales were told to me, not read, and told in
such a way that they led me to seek no individual foothold
in a world at war with my heart: they helped
to take away what the world calls personal ambition.
They strengthened my natural quality as a dreamer,
my tendency to care only for the welfare of the soul.
If I could bring about no change in this world, it
should effect no alteration in me. This, as I
grew older, became a conscious passion with me:
not to allow myself to be affected by the world, or
its ideals. Such was, at an early age, my romantic
resolution. Now, as the colour in my hair begins
to match the grey in my eyes, and I look back over
the changes of almost half a century, I detect in
the wreck of my life almost a harmony, and something
rises above the ruins.
“On that frail foundation from
fairy land my trembling imagination rested, even amid
the sordid developments of my experience. How
often did I take my youthful oath that the day should
never come when I would out-grow my feeling for all
the world! I have been put to the test, and,
I hope, not found wanting.
“The end of my first ten years
of life found me regretfully divesting myself, one
by one, of my beloved folk-lore tales, and reverently
folding them away, in preparation for the fray.
I worked, during my second ten years, as a journeyman
tanner and currier; knocked by fate and the boss from
shop to shop and from town to town. I naturally
sought solidarity with my fellows. Class feeling
awoke in me, and voluntarily and enthusiastically
I joined the union of my craft. Though I strained
at its narrow confines, I was at one with my class.
During the ’70’s and ’80’s
the eight hour movement laid me off on several strikes,
long and short. This enforced leisure was not
idleness for me, for in these periods the world of
science, art and philosophy shot their stray gleams
into my startled mind, and I found time to ponder on
what leisure might do for the mob. What did it
not do for me, and what has it not done for me since?
And I in the very ecstasy of my being was one of this
“Whole hours, whole nights,
I stole from my needed rest to read and ponder on
our human fate. Sundays! Things after a day’s
labour incomprehensible to my stunned brain were easily
grasped on a glorious morning of religious leisure.
The apathy of my fellows how well I understood
it when, with nerves unstrung and muscles relaxed,
after a tense twelve hours of toil, I fell asleep
over my beloved books! And how well, too, I understood
their amusement the appeal of the poor man’s
club! when in gay carousal we tried to forget
what we were. Even in the saloon and dance-hall
we told tales of the shop! Oh, the irony of it!
Was there no escape from the madness of the mart, no
surcease from the frenzy of the factory or the shibboleth
of the shop!
“Yes! How well I recall
the gay transformation in my shop-mates when the whistle
blew on Saturday night. The dullest and most morose
showed intelligence then. The prospect of rest,
be it ever so remote even in the hereafter roused
them from their lethargy. How alert and cheerful
we were on holidays, even the prolonged holiday of
a strike brought its pinched joys. Quite a number
of my ancient comrades of industry looked forward
to the Poor House with a hopefulness born of thwarted
toil. The luckiest ones out of the thousands
whom I knew were those few who, overcome at last,
could find some sheltering fireside and keep out of
the way until nature laid them off for good; the living
envied the dead.
“I took part in the famous bread
riots of ’77, when I had to fly from the shop,
before an infuriated mob armed with sticks, stones,
pikes, and pitchforks. In the same year I saw
from a distance the great battle of the viaduct, when
the mob, armed as in the bread riots, faced the federal
troops and were shot down and dispersed. It was
about this time, too, that I stood by as the ‘Lehr
und Wehr Verein’ in their blue blouses
of toil and shouldered rifles strode ominously onward.
These men were the first fruits in America of Bakunin’s
ideals and work in Europe. They, too, were put
down, by an act of legislature.
“These proletarian protagonists
whipped me into a fury. My father, too, had his
rifle, and when drunk he invoked it, as it hung on
the wall, thus: ’Come down, my sweet rifle,
how brightly you shine! What tyrant dare stifle
that sweet voice of thine.’ But my father
was only a Fenian revolutionist; and as it was only
a step for me from Ireland to Internationalism, I
was soon beyond his creed.
“We had come to America during
war times, with the spirit of revolt already germinating
within us; and although we were against slavery, our
sympathies were with the South. We were natural
as well as political democrats, and even when the
mob was in the wrong, I always became one of it.
How finely elemental, how responsive to the best and
the worst, is the mob when the crisis comes!
“Although my thoughts were forming
through my readings and the larger events about me,
the everyday life in the shop was perhaps the deepest
cause of my growing revolt. The atmosphere of
the frenzied factory is well calculated to produce
a spirit of sullen and smouldering rebellion in the
minds of its less hardened inmates. From the domineering
boss down to the smallest understrapper, the spirit
of the jailer and turnkey is dominant. Much worse
than solitary confinement is it to be sentenced to
ten hours of silence and drudgery. The temptation
to speak to the man at your side is well nigh irresistible.
But to speak means to be marked, to have hurled at
you a humiliating reprimand, or, as a last resort,
to be discharged.
“No lunching between meals is
allowed, although it is a well-known fact that few
workers have the appetite at dawn to eat sufficient
food to last them till their cold lunch at noon.
From this comes the terrible habit, among the older
toilers, of the eye-opener, a gulp of rot-gut whiskey,
taken to arouse the sleeping stomach and force sufficient
food on it to last till noon. As a convalescent
victim of this proletarian practice I am well aware
of its ravages on body and mind. It is the will-of-the-wisp
of false whiskey followed by false hope, leading into
the fogs and bogs of the bourgeois and the quicksands
of the capitalist.
“To be a moment late, means
to be docked and to have it rubbed in by an insult.
To take a day off, well death is taken as
an excuse. There is no such thing in a shop as
social equality between boss and men. In my last
position as foreman I had charge of three hundred men.
Many of them were faithful comrades in many a brave
strike, where starvation pressed hard, whence they
had emerged with hollow cheeks and undaunted hearts.
I soon came to know them all, personally, intimately,
and liked them all, though I felt most strangely drawn
to those who worked for one dollar a day. They
all did their work faithfully, and there was no complaint
from the front office. One day, however, the owner
charged me with treating the hands as if they were
my equals. I tried to make him see the human
justification of it, but he would have none of it.
He was a typical boss and also a millionaire banker.
“It was about this time that
I discovered the deepest tonic my nerves have ever
known. The explosion of the Haymarket bomb found
a responsive chord, the vibrations of which will never
cease in me, I hope. The unconscious in me was
at last released, and I held my mad balance on the
crater’s edge and gazed into it. Hereafter,
I was to live on dangerous ground, at least in thought.
No more doubt, no more shuffling now. I must
try the chords of my heart, the sympathy of my soul,
in open rebellion. The iniquities of civilisation
had ruined a fine barbarian in me, and almost made
of me a maudlin miscreant, willing to hang upon the
skirts of a false society. The Haymarket bomb
made me strip again and for a nobler fray.
“Of what avail was it, I reflected,
to raise one’s voice in the wilderness of theories?
How do any good by a social enthusiasm merely expressed
in theory? Such thin cerebral structures are shattered
to pieces in the ordeal of life. Ah, but this
anonymous Avatar, this man with the bomb! His
instinct was right, but how far short it fell, and
must always fall. He had settled the strife within
him and become definite to himself: that was
all he had done. I too must settle the strife
within me. I was plunged into prolonged dreams
from which I was aroused by hunger, hunger of many
kinds, and driven into my former haunt, the shop.
“But now, when I stripped for
work in the factory and donned my vestments of toil,
I stood forth without falsehood. I knew, if not
what I was, at least what I wanted, rather what I
did not want. I did not want this, this society!
“Each morning as I took my place
in the shop I had the feeling of my boyhood as
if I were celebrating a High Mass before the sacrifice
of another day. There was much of the Pontifical
in me, for I was a rapt radical. Each morning
on my way to Commercial Calvary I saw another sacrifice;
I overtook small shrivelled forms, children they were,
by the dim dawn. How their immature coughings
racked my heart and gave me that strange tightening
of the chest! I could not keep my eyes from the
ground whence came the sound of small telltale splashes,
after each cough. Many times I stopped to hold
a child who was vomiting.
“Here was a woe too deep for
tears; and I must look with dry eyes or I should fail
to see. Have you ever noticed the searching dry
gaze of the poor? It is like the seeing, wistful
look of a child which few can bear without
flinching. I had no need to read Dante’s
imaginary ‘Inferno.’ I was living
in a real one which made all imagination seem trivial.
’The short and simple annals of the poor’
seems like poetry, but only superficially, for it
is not truth, but a fiction. It is false, for
the annals of the aristocracy are not so long, neither
are they so complex.
“I am not trying to plead for
anything. I am trying merely to express.
Prepared for everything, I have forgiven everything,
even myself. Everything that could happen has
happened to me, perhaps the worst that happened did
not come from without, but from within. My family
came off safely enough from the fray of the factory.
Only two of us were maimed for life and five claimed
for death out of a family of eleven.
That left half a dozen for the statistician to figure
Terry, a transcendental poet, who
worked in the shop for many years, had quit it some
time before he met Marie. The above letter shows,
in a general way, the mood which finally brought about
his social self-exile, so to speak. The letter
which follows gives a specific instance of the kind
of experience which disgusted the idealist with the
imperfect world. He had been living against society,
had foregathered with outcasts and had thrown down
the gauntlet generally to organised society, for some
years, but he still from time to time worked at some
job or other. An incident happening some years
after the meeting with Marie, which is still to be
described, is sufficiently typical of what finally
threw him entirely out from society to be truthfully
illustrative at this point.
“I was keeping open house for
all comers, regardless of law or order, morality or
money. I wished to hurl myself and my theories
to the test, and gauntlet my defiance to a withered
world. It was a happy time, looked back on now
as a dream, in which, however, there was an undertone
of nightmare. We had three little rooms up many
mild flights of unbalustered stairs. Our main
furniture consisted of mattresses which, like morning
clouds, were rolled away when the sun arose.
“For the shocking salary of
six dollars a week I was collector for the Prudential
Insurance company. One rent day I lacked the necessary
four dollars and a half. I telegraphed my other
ego, my dear brother Jim, in Pittsburg. The same
day brought from him a telegraph money-order for twenty-five
dollars, and soon afterward a letter asking me to go
to Pittsburg and help him out. I had always been
deemed an expert in the leather line, especially in
locating anything wrong in the various processes.
My brother was a member of a new millionaire leather
firm, which was losing thousands of dollars every
week because they were unable to locate the weakness
in the process. Jim wanted me to find the flaw.
“It was with the utmost repugnance
that I quit my happy slum life, but I loved Jim, and
it was the call of the ancient clan in my blood.
When I arrived in Pittsburg, without a trunk, and
with other marks of the proletarian on me, Mr. Kirkman,
the millionaire tanner, showered me with every luxury every
luxury except that of thought and true emotion.
Never before did I realise so intensely my indifference
to what money can buy. My private office in the
shop was stocked with wines and imported cigarettes:
but I was not so well off as in my happy slum.
“I toiled like a sleepless sisyphus,
and one day, in a flash of intuition, I located and
showed the flaw in an obscure process; I was completely
“I had put no price on my services.
For Jim’s sake, I had worked like a Trojan,
physically and mentally, for a month. With unlimited
money at my disposal, I had drawn only twenty dollars
altogether, and this I sent to Marie, to keep the
wolf away from the Rogues’ Gallery, our flat.
“When the factory was running
smoothly, I told Mr. Kirkman that I would break in
a man for my place. He made me a tempting offer
to take full charge of the shop. I told him I
would not be a participant in exploiting his ‘hands,’
who were getting only $7 to $8 a week. Furthermore,
I said I would not stand for the discharge of any man
for incompetency. I had never in the shop met
any man I could not teach and learn something from
in return; I had never discharged a man, and never
would. The millionaire boss nevertheless continued
to urge me to take the position, and my brother Jim
offered me two thousand dollars’ worth of stock
at par and a large yearly salary. Well, I suppose,
there’s no use of anybody’s trying to
move me when Jim has failed.
“I quit Pittsburg with nothing
but the price of a ticket to Chicago, though my brother
told me the firm would send me a check for $500 or
$1,000 for my services as an expert. When, with
a beating heart, I returned to my dear Rogues’
Gallery, all was change and dispersion. No more
happy times in our little balcony of fellowship, which
had overlooked in its irresponsibility the jarring
sects and insects of this world: the most delightful
place in this world to me is a home without a boss,
and this home was for the time gone. The possibility
of being unfair to Marie makes me draw a veil over
the cause of the breaking-up of the Rogues’
“Poor Jim found that the firm
would not pay me a cent for my really brilliant month’s
work, for the reason that I had refused to be a conventional
boss and had no written or verbal contract or agreement.
Jim therefore resigned, forfeiting fifty dollars of
weekly salary and twenty-five thousand dollars in
stock, ten thousand of which he had offered me to
stay. Mr. Kirkman thought all the world of Jim
and could not run the shop without him. Nor could
he recover from the blow, for he loved my brother,
as everybody did. Mr. Kirkman died a few weeks
afterward, and after a year or two the firm went into
the hands of a receiver. All this happened because
of a few paltry dollars, which I did not ask for,
for which I did not care a damn and this
is business! I heartily rejoice, if not in Mr.
Kirkman’s death, at least in the dispersion
of his family and their being forced into our ranks,
where there is some hope for them.
“My brother Jim was one of the
maimed ones in my family. Twenty years ago, defective
machinery and a surgeon’s malpractice made one
arm useless. The Pittsburg affair broke up his
beautiful home. He and his whole-souled wife
and charming children, into whose eyes it was an entrancing
rapture for me to look, were a family without a boss;
they needed none, for they loved one another perfectly.
Jim is dead now, and the best I can do is to send
you his last letter; it has the brevity of grief:
“’I have no explanation
to offer for my silence, more than a feeling which
possessed me shortly after my arrival here a
desire to be considered a dead one, and am doing all
but the one thing that will make my wish a reality.
I am long tired of the game, and only continue to
play because of the hardships my taking off would cause
those who at present are not able to care for themselves.
A way out of it would be to take them along, but I
think if the matter were put before them, they would
decline my proffered service; and take a chance as
half-orphans. You calling up our boyhood days
in “Little Hell” makes me question still
further if I have any right to deny those dear to me
the delights that only the young can feel and enjoy.
I made a great mistake in coming to this Ohio town.
The chase for dollars which I am performing here seven
days every week is very disgusting to me, and every
day only adds to the pangs. I am out all day
selling goods, pleading for trade and collecting for
former weeks’ business; and in the evening I
must do the necessary office work. Every day
is the same, except Sunday, when I make up the book-keeping
for the whole week and prepare statements and the like,
to begin the usual round on Monday morning. It
is a hell of a life and I wish it were done.
I have some consolation in being able to call up at
will those that I love. I have many a waking dream,
while tramping the hills, about the comrades that
have added to the joys of my former existence.
Let me hear from you occasionally, because a letter
from you seems to revive some of the old feeling that
formerly made life passable.’
“I suppose I shall recover in
time from Jim’s death. I wish I could have
been with him when he died. During his last half-unconscious
moments the nurse proposed to send for a priest.
Jim’s soul must have made a last effort, for
raising himself erect, he flung these words: ’I
hire no spiritual nurse,’ and then asked his
daughter of fourteen to bring him a volume of Emerson
and read to him. When she returned with the book,
he was gone.
“Of course, the doctor and all
the wise ones have diagnosed Jim’s case.
But I think he sized up his case in that letter I sent
you. He died of that great loneliness of soul
which made of his wasted body a battered barricade
against the stupidity which finally engulphed him.
The soul of social and individual honour and commercial
integrity, he had the misfortune to find few like
himself. He yearned for the ideal; and I am sure
he went down with that hope for humanity. Let
us trust that there is an ever increasing number of
human beings who have Jim’s malady ’seekers
after something in this world, that is there in no
satisfying measure, or not at all.’ If this
letter seems boisterously blue, remember it is only
the sullen marching of the black sap preceding the
unfurling of the emerald banners of spring, when all
things break into a ‘shrill green.’”